Dems will file lawsuit in council seat controversy

The Allen County Election Board certified the 2016 election results with a 2-1 vote.
The Allen County Election Board certified the 2016 election results with a 2-1 vote.

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE)  – Tensions were high at times at Monday’s Allen County Election Board meeting as its members debated whether or not votes for republican Roy Buskirk could be counted. Buskirk was running for re-election for an Allen County Council At-large seat and got the third highest number of votes, but he died four days before election day.

“I think the law is very clear,” Tim Pape, the democratic election board member, said. “Mr. Buskirk’s passing created a vacancy and he cannot have won when he wasn’t a candidate any longer.”

County Councilman Roy Buskirk
County Councilman Roy Buskirk

Election board chairman and republican appointee to the board Tom Hardin said he and the board’s legal council disagree. The board met the day before the election day and decided no action was necessary because Buskirk died so close to the election.

“We all agreed as an election board that Mr. Buskirk’s name would stay on the ballot and if he won it would be filled by a caucus. There was not a word of opposition. Not a word to the contrary. [Pape] didn’t disagree that day, the day before the election. But today, he disagrees,” Hardin said.

Allen County democratic party chairman Jack Morris has argued that according to Indiana law, Buskirk wasn’t a valid candidate anymore and any votes for him can’t count. Because the republicans didn’t name a replacement candidate before the election, Morris said the fourth place finisher, democrat Palermo Galindo, should win the seat.

“It doesn’t strike me as just and valid for the other party’s candidate to be catapulted into office despite losing the election,” Hardin said.

While the election board is a non-partisan body, Monday’s vote to certify the election results seemed to be along party lines. Hardin and Lisbeth Borgmann, who is the republican county clerk, and as such is the standing member on the election board, both voted to certify all the results, making Buskirk the winner of the third at-large seat. Pape voted against certifying the votes and did not sign the form that shows the board certified them.

“Deceased candidates are no longer candidates and you can’t get around that law other than to ignore it,” Pape said. “We can’t certify someone who wasn’t a candidate and that’s what the other board members decided to do.”

Palermo Galindo (Photo Courtesy: Facebook)
Palermo Galindo (Photo Courtesy: Facebook)

Hardin said in the meeting that determining whether a candidate was valid or not is beyond the board’s scope.

“Our job is to certify the vote totals, the numbers that came in, and who those were cast for. The legal issue that [Pape] is raising, that the candidate listed is not a candidate, is an overreach for the election board to make those legal decisions and conclusions,” he said.

It appears a judge will now make that determination. Galindo and Morris had said they would file a lawsuit contesting the certification if it happened and Monday they confirmed the lawsuit should be filed by noon on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the republican caucus to select someone to fill Buskirk’s four-year term will be at 6:30 p.m. on December 8 at the Allen County GOP headquarters downtown. A caucus on November 30 will select someone to fill the remainder of Buskirk’s current term.